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With volunteer help, Flossmoor historic home study takes shape

Jennifer Sykes’ Flossmoor home was one of the houses photographed as part of efforts to document the village’s architectural treasures. (Provided photo)

Flossmoor residents know they live in a unique place, and they want the world to know too. 

That’s why volunteers have been taking pictures of over 1,000 historic locations in the community, contributing to the first phase of the Flossmoor History Project.

Jennifer Sykes’ Flossmoor home was one of the houses photographed as part of efforts to document the village’s architectural treasures. (Provided photo)

The initiative aims to collect and preserve information about Flossmoor’s historic neighborhoods, which were developed though the work of notable architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Purcell & Elmslie, a well-known American firm in the 1920s. 

Volunteers are teaming up with the village to create a survey, using the pictures they’ve taken to identify the style of a building or house, the year it was built and its architectural significance with the help of the Carlile Group, a Manteno architectural firm. 

James O’Shea, a volunteer and member of Flossmoor’s Community Relations Commission, said he’s taken pictures of more than 45 locations since April, including his home, which was built in the 1920s. He has also shot photos of homes and buildings on Central Drive and Flossmoor Road. 

He said he was inspired to take photographs for the project because he wants to help promote Flossmoor’s history. 

“Flossmoor has this amazing history that not enough people know about and if we can get this together, it’s just one more way for our community to know about itself and to show, to communities around us, why Flossmoor is so special,” he said.

He also feels his work on the project helped him connect more with his neighbors, striking up conversations with residents as he went around snapping photos.

“The Flossmoor Community Relations Commission is about bringing this community together, so I was able to talk to some people that I’ve never met before about what I’m doing and why,” he said. “This is going to be an opportunity for people to really get to know what their homes are about and really get more history besides the four or five soundbites they already know.”

Jennifer Sykes said she’s taken pictures of about 36 homes including her own, which is 108 years old.

“I don’t know a lot about its history other than it was built in 1912,” Sykes said. “I was told by the previous owners that the house was originally built for a railroad executive as a summer home.”

She said she’s looking forward to learning more about the history of her house as well as the buildings in her neighborhood.

CRC members Scott Ford and Myron Graham, who spearheaded the project in early 2018, saw it as a way to preserve Flossmoor’s history and to promote the village’s housing stock. It’s some of the best throughout all of the Chicago area, Ford said.

For now, the next step of the project is to bring the photographs taken by volunteers to an architect who specializes in preservation. 

This analysis will then be placed in a survey modeled after the national standards for historic places. Ford said that’s a good starting point for placing a home or neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places, which is administered by the National Park Service. 

Additionally, this information will be compiled to create the “Houses of Flossmoor,” an online interactive map highlighting significant homes and buildings in the area. 

“There are grants and tax benefits associated with the register and it would provide another reason for folks unfamiliar with the area to come out and explore,” Ford said. “Once we have all the information compiled, it will be an excellent resource for marketing the village regardless of whether the homes or neighborhoods end up on the historic register.”

Despite these benefits, Graham, who works in healthcare, said the project is also a good way to get away from the anxiety caused by work and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As my wife and I walk about old Flossmoor snapping photos of the century bungalows, and Dutch royal colonials, Tudors, Georgians, and Spanish colonials, we sigh and think: we are blessed and they really don’t make them like this anymore,” he said.

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